Amusement Park Physics Quiz

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The World’s Coolest Physics Classroom

Danny Messinger |
April 3, 2020

Every spring for more than 35 years, California’s Great America has welcomed middle school and high school students to the park for a day of hands-on physics, science and math education. When social distancing started throwing us for a loop a few weeks ago, we wanted to offer some of the physics curriculum students would normally get to experience at Physics, Science and Math Days but repurposed for homeschooling. Sorry we can’t send virtual first-drop butterflies along with these lessons!

We’ve assembled a five-page downloadable worksheet that quizzes students at a high-school level about the principles of amusement park physics. While students are at home this spring, they can supplement their distance learning with a fun, real-world application for kinematics principles. Be sure to review the concepts below before completing the quiz, and check out our Great America attractions pages if you’re unfamiliar with how any ride works!

Rides Referenced in the Quiz

The Klothoid Loop

The designers of the Klothoid loop have invented a shape that controls the forces riders experience as they go around a vertical loop. The unique shape of the loop decreases the forces exerted on a rider as they enter and leave the loop while maintaining the force necessary to keep riders in their seats as they go over the top of the loop. Thus, the shape of the loop controls the forces a rider experiences.

The two loops drawn above have the same height, so a coaster at point A, point B, point C, etc. in each loop would have the same speed due to energy considerations. But at points A and E, where the coaster has the most speed, the Klothoid loop is curved more gently (larger radius) than the circular loop.

Consequently the centripetal force a rider experiences (F=mv2/r) is less in the Klothoid loop than in the circular loop. At point C, where the coaster is moving the slowest, the Klothoid loop is more tightly curved than the circular loop. Thus as riders cross the top of the Klothoid loop, a force from the seat fighting a rider’s inertia squeezes the rider into their seat, keeping them safely in the ride vehicle even when they're upside down!